At the close of 2012, FPL had installed more than 10,000 smart grid devices on its transmission and distribution grid, installed 4.2 million smart meters and added some form of enhanced digital technology to all of its substations. The utility installed sensors and monitors on transformers, insulators, breakers and batteries to determine the health of the equipment and predict potential issues. In addition, FPL installed digital microprocessor technologies and updated transmission protection and control panels to provide real-time telemetry and enhanced reliability. These devices serve as key components of FPL’s wide-area situational analysis. Internally, FPL staff developed software applications to analyze the data coming into the predictive diagnostic centers. Engineers and operators use this data to pinpoint equipment problems so crews can be dispatched before outages occur.
The newly installed digital distribution equipment is connected through a wireless mesh network. FPL used the same radio network cards in both the smart meters and the distribution automation switches to fully leverage the network capabilities. The mesh radio technology also connects the newly installed capacitor bank system and thousands of other distribution grid sensors and monitors.
These distribution system improvements have produced measurable benefits already. For example, the utility’s upgraded Transmission Performance and Diagnostic Center (TPDC) remotely monitors power transformers in 500 substations. New bushing monitors, which detect and diagnose problems before they occur, have been installed on some of those transformers to evaluate the condition of both high- and low-voltage bushings, including capacitance, power factor and the extent of current imbalance.
Bushing failures can damage transformers, resulting in costly repairs and extended outages. In January 2012, a newly installed monitor detected an out-of-tolerance high-voltage bushing. Customers served by this transformer were temporarily switched to another one, and the affected transformer was removed from service. The faulty bushing was then replaced, preventing a potential outage that would have affected several thousand customers.
The TPDC also monitors battery banks that provide power to 500 substations. The battery banks are monitored for both high- and low-voltage levels, as well as high impedance. In February 2011, a TPDC monitor received an alarm signal indicating a battery problem at a substation located in a remote section of FPL’s service territory. A local field engineer was dispatched to the site, found a loose interconnection strap that caused the alarm and made the repair. This prevented a battery malfunction, which might have resulted in an extended outage for the hundreds of customers served by that substation.
FPL Lessons Learned
Olnick said FPL has learned valuable lessons through its smart grid project, which was nearly complete by the end of 2012. “FPL is known for its ability to execute on large-scale utility projects, and this was a huge project even for us,” Olnick said. “A smart grid project of this scale and innovation requires a supportive state regulatory framework and strong utility leadership. It also requires a lot of workforce and organizational preparation to implement all the new technology and procedures.
“We were required to rigorously evaluate the technology in our selection process,” Olnick added. “There were a few vendors whose products just weren’t there yet, so we had to find either alternative products or vendors. It takes a lot from the vendors when you are asking them to ramp up and produce a substantial amount of equipment in a short period of time, and to help engineer many complex projects. Companies like General Electric (GE) really came to bat for us, along with others like Silver Spring Networks.”
GE provided its engineering design staff to help FPL manage the large amount of engineering design work required in many of the substation equipment changes. “It takes working closely with your strategic partners to get the job done right,” Olnick said. “In addition, you must make sure that the technology you choose is both scalable and secure. In-depth and detailed testing was critical to ensure the new technology met our cyber security standards. You also must take time to analyze the system capabilities to make sure you can support the enormous amounts of data generated by all these devices.”